Having your sister as prom date
Sister teams SMB and Magnolia will be facing off in the PBA Philippine Cup Finals. Jerome Ascano

THE PBA and its hardcore fans would prefer a different matchup. San Miguel against Magnolia cannot be its dream Philippine Cup championship series.

San Miguel Beer and Magnolia, for those who may be living where there is no radio, TV, FB, or internet, are sister teams. They belong to one company: San Miguel Corporation. Also under the SMB umbrella is Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, arguably the PBA’s most popular team.

The MVP group of companies, controlled by Manny V. Pangilinan, also has three PBA teams. These are Talk ‘N Text, NLEX, and Meralco, so San Miguel Corporation is not exactly alone in this strange setup.

It is a setup where sister teams can be fighting it out in the finals. The last time this happened was just last year, when San Miguel Beer beat Barangay Ginebra for the Philippine Cup.

That series was stupendous in its gate success. Largely due to Ginebra, whose magical pull can fill stadiums whoever its opponent, whether it’s sister team San Miguel, top rival TNT, or lowly Kia.

So last year, when Ginebra played San Miguel Beer for the Philippine Cup, the PBA had the nice problem of having to meet huge ticket demands. Well, this year that nice problem is not likely to happen. When San Miguel Beer plays Magnolia starting tomorrow, kicking off a best-of-seven series, the PBA may have to give away free beer and fried chicken.

A crowd could show up, true. But they will mainly be San Miguel Corporation people. Unlike Ginebra, which attracts fans from all walks of life, San Miguel and Magnolia draw fans from the same crowd. It is therefore wise not to be too fervent or too partisan. The fan you heckle today may be the same one you bump into in the company elevator tomorrow.

All right, a San Miguel-Magnolia championship is like taking your own sister to your high school prom. Now, how exciting is that?

Sure, these two teams would’ve been briefed to put on a performance. Their bosses definitely know the public is skeptical to begin with. So the boys will show some tenacity, maybe get physical, even have a few guys flirting with Flagrant 2 fouls. But all the boys also know, in this championship, the only thing at stake is the company’s bragging rights. 

After the series, what happens? It’s not far-fetched to think that players, coaches, managers, and important hangers on will eventually get together at SMC’s main office in Ortigas for drinking and dining with Ramon Ang, SMC chief honcho, who could be getting tired of the same, expected, predictable, repeat celebration. SMC teams have won 11 of the last 13 PBA championships.

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And think: Sister teams meeting in the finals, especially those from SMC, may happen even more often in the future. San Miguel Beer, Barangay Ginebra, and Magnolia continue to build very powerful lineups. Give credit to its basketball operations staff, which always thinks ahead and leaves nothing to chance to make their teams stronger.

It also helps the franchise that nearly all aspiring basketball players in the country dream of one day playing for a San Miguel team, and that even veteran players in other teams also do. The franchise is too powerful, too solid, too forever. PBA teams come and go, but San Miguel Corporation, one of the nation’s leading companies, has remained a PBA pillar. 

Why, its generosity is the stuff of legend. Without mentioning San Miguel, Alaska owner Fred Uytengsu once wondered aloud if the PBA has tried checking whether the salary cap for players was being observed.

Coaches also somehow find themselves unable to resist the call of SMC. Tim Cone — a PBA legend with a grand slam with Alaska and a towering achievement as the coach with the most titles (20) — joined the SMC bandwagon in 2011. One year later, he gave SMC’s B-Meg a championship. In 2014, he piloted the same team, then renamed San Mig, to four straight championships that also won Tim his second grand slam. He moved to Ginebra in 2016, and has since given that team two championships. By the way, San Mig later became Star and is now named Magnolia.

Amid all this, we still haven’t seen Christian Standhardinger. He is this year’s PBA first-round overall pick, and it was his selection that created a deep crisis that nearly disbanded the PBA and ousted Chito Narvasa as commissioner. The 6-8 Standhardinger, 28, a seasoned professional, will make his debut for San Miguel Beer in the second conference, joining four-time MVP June Mar Fajardo.

Whoever told you it’s not a perfect world is right.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @spinph